la répétition (replay)

2000

Directed by: Catherine Corsini
Written by: Pascale Breton, Catherine Corsini, Pierre Erwan Guillaume, Marc Syrigas

If your film-going needs are all satisfied by simply staring admiringly at the beauty of the lead actresses, then this film might satisfy you.

Emmanuelle Béart (Mission Impossible) and Pascale Bussiéres (When Night is Falling) are a French casting agents dream, sexy and talented, while not being the kind of lesbian stereotypes that would have killed this movie from the outset.

However, it takes more than two above-par actresses to make a movie work. The feeling I had when I came out of La Répétition was the overwhelming desire to hit something. I was frustrated by the film because it had such enormous potential to create a truly eerie and morally ambivalent atmosphere, yet failed to hit the mark with such alarming regularity that in the end I just wanted to yell at the screen, or slap the characters out of their self-involved misery.

Nathalie and Louise are two friends who are inseperable, even sharing the same dream to become actresses. Unfortunately, Louise has developed a painful crush on Nathalie, who with her free-spirited ways does not see that Louise is trying to make up for the fact that she can't have Nathalie as a lover by attempting to control her life.

Finally Louise, driven half-mad by her obsession for Nathalie and after arguing over Nathalie's latest boyfriend, decides to commit suicide. She fails, but resolves never to see or speak to Nathalie again for her own mental health.

Cut to a decade or so later. Louise has married and become a dental prosthetist working in a practice with her husband, the stable-yet-boring dentist. Nathalie has forged a career in avante-garde theatre and is on the cusp of her big break, but is tied down by her loyalty to her abusive boyfriend who directs and writes all her projects.

Louise attends a play one day and recognises Nathalie, and instantly both her obsession and jealousy of her are rekindled.

Nathalie is not worthy of Louise's love and adoration. Far from just being the innocent victim of calculated and sometimes violent obsession, this grown up Nathalie recognises Louise's feelings immediately. Whether she ignores their true depth or deliberately shuts it out through her own self-involvement is a question the film never really answers.

Louise soon drops everything in her life to renew her friendship with Nathalie. It becomes clear that she'll do anything and lie about anything to keep Nathalie, as well as to advance the career Nathalie has that Louise feels should have been hers. It is not just Nathalie that Louise wants, it is her life, her future and everything that goes with it.

As the ugly drama between the two women plays itself out we see some of the joys of close female friendships, but mostly we see anger, bitterness, selfishness and horror. The love Louise had, once based on purity of feeling as a young girl, is now based on longing, regret, jealousy and self-hatred.

However, Nathalie is such a horrible, selfish person that any sympathy we may have felt for her quickly disappears. When that happens we are left with the odd sensation of not knowing who to root for, not because we like both characters or are ambivalent about them, but because we can't figure out which of them we dislike more.

Finally, after many fights and much anguish and humilation, we're left with one of those vague endings that is meant to be mysterious, but really succeeds in telling us that the filmmaker really didn't know where to go next.

The saving grace of the film is one brilliantly conceived and horrific scene. Nathalie is in pain and almost dying, crying out for Louise's help. Louisewatches on in an almost detached manner, deciding between letting Nathalie live or die. It was almost as if she were checking an imaginery pro/con list in her head. It was cold, calculated, brtal. The emotions and furies that play out wordlessly in the scene are almost enough to save the ugliness of the film around it. Almost, but not quite.

There is a fine line between making characters morally bereft and making them completely unappealing. Nathalie is a prat. Pure and simple. She has gotten that way through years of systematic emotional abuse, but the fact that the character came by the trait honestly does not make it any easier to watch.

Louise's obsession has been compared to that of Eve in All About Eve, a calculated manipulation of Nathalie for her own ends. This seems too simple a comparison, her pathology seems far uglier and so much less intelligent.

Dealing with powerful emotional abuse and violent unrequited love requires more finesse than this director was able to deliver. People expecting a more delicate touch from Pascale Bussieres after her turn in When Night is Falling will be disappointed with the heavy-handedness of this film and her unrelenting portrayal of the "villain" here.

Chalk this one up to The Children's Hour school of filmmaking. A character is driven mad by her disgust in herself and her desires. I can't see too many lesbians finding much to take away with them from this experience.

Got a comment? Write to me at nancyamazon@gmail.com